The fellowship serves as a model for Governor Newsom’s proposed new #CaliforniansForAll College Service Program.
Josh Fryday, chief service officer for the state of California and head of the California Volunteers program within the Office of the Governor, visited San José State on May 28 to meet with a small group of SJSU’s Civic Action Fellows. The student-fellows are part of the university’s inaugural cohort of the Civic Action Fellowship, a national service partnership between the California Volunteers, AmeriCorps and a coalition of public and private universities.
Last year, San José State’s Center for Community Learning and Leadership (CCLL) was awarded more than $500,000 in grant funding to launch and implement the inaugural program, which helps 44 students pay for college while providing local after-school programs with STEM education and computer programming for underserved third- and sixth-grade youth.
Unfortunately, university restrictions and school closings during the COVID-19 pandemic required program leadership to quickly pivot their programming completely from in-person to virtual.
“In response, current Civic Action Fellows created unplugged project kits that they used to teach core concepts related to computer science and programming,” said Andrea Tully, CCLL’s assistant director and program director and co-primary investigator of the Civic Action Fellowship.
The original, handmade kits contained everything the young students needed to complete the activities on their own and offline. Fellows supplemented their weekly lessons using digital platforms “to collaborate with the youth to create and debug games using the Scratch programming language,” Tully added.
Despite the odds of reimagining programming practically overnight, the outcomes of the first Civic Action Fellowship at San José State were remarkable, particularly in how effective the students were at engaging the youth with fun, educational activities — and much needed one-on-one connection.
Outside of their families, the fellows were often the only social interaction many of the children had with other adults during the pandemic.
“The fellows worked as a team to adapt to learning and serving while sheltering in place, fostering what will likely be lifelong friendships with their peers and a sense of pride being a member of the SJSU Civic Action Fellowship during unprecedented times,” said Tully.
Fryday’s visit was an immense honor for SJSU; he and other staff members at California Volunteers are thrilled with the results of the CCLL’s work with the C.A. Fellowship program, which has been awarded a second year of funding for 2021.
“Higher education and public service is a natural partnership, and the program at San José State University is a model program for the entire state. The Civic Action Fellowship supports commitment to public service, and addresses challenges all Californians face — particularly in historically underserved communities,” said Fryday.
“Calling on young people to serve their communities is an investment in the future of California. Helping those students pay for college and find meaningful employment upon graduation will ensure its continued success in bettering their lives, and the lives of those around them,” he continued.
San José State’s C.A. fellowship has a nearly 100 percent retention rate. As they recruit for the upcoming academic year, nearly half of the original fellows have already applied for the second cohort, which speaks volumes about the experience it offers both fellows and its young participants.
Cielo Pano, ’24 Applied Nutrition and Sciences, said being a Civic Action Fellow helped her develop essential skills that benefit her as both a student and a mentor. “I’m now a more resilient and goal-oriented person with better time management skills”
“The opportunity to meet the current Chief Service Officer of California helped us appreciate the roots of our efforts and involvement in the fellowship — and why our time and service in the program is important,” she added.
“Being a fellow during the pandemic was quite intensive, but providing entertainment and information for youth during this once in a century epidemic was really impactful,” said Ian Chavez, ’23 Computer Science. “It helps you realize how much small actions can influence the world.”
Chavez also appreciated Fryday’s visit to SJSU. “Meeting Mr. Fryday meant a lot,” he said. “I always felt that my work in the fellowship was important, but having such a prominent figure sit down and talk with us about the program was a great experience.”
Christopher Padua,’23 Forensic Science, also greatly appreciated the opportunity to meet Fryday and share his thoughts on the experience. One of the things Padua told him was: “Without this program, these young kids with so much potential may not have otherwise been introduced to these computer skills or learn that they could even do coding at all.”
Setting an example for others to thrive
The Civic Action Fellowship pilot program set a concrete example for California Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed #CaliforniansForAll College Service Program, which, similar to the C.A. Fellowship, will help eliminate financial hardship of college for students in need.
The Governor’s May budget revision includes $285.2 million in one-time funds to establish the program in collaboration with the University of California, California State University, California Community Colleges, and private California university systems.
“The #CaliforniansForAll College Program is a historic proposed investment in service from Governor Gavin Newsom. It will create debt-free college pathways for low-income students, tackle our greatest challenges, inspire a new generation to serve, and unite our communities,” said Fryday.
According to the budget summary, the #CaliforniansForAll program creates 12,500 part-time service opportunities for college students interested in addressing urgent matters related to education, healthcare, and climate and disaster response, among others. It offers both a stipend and scholarship for eligible participants.
“This program will help California’s communities tackle critical issues focused on climate action, tutoring and mentoring, and other critical areas of COVID-19 recovery, like food insecurity,” Fryday added.
San José State’s Civic Action Fellows’ specific service efforts are developed collaboratively with partners, which include Title 1 after school programs within Campbell Union School District (CUSD) Expanded Learning Programs, Sunday Friends, and Third Street Community Center, and are responsive to community needs. Thus, the experience results in meaningful progress toward achieving shared goals within the community.
“The Civic Action Fellowship truly enacts SJSU’s commitment to integrating service to the community with academic learning experiences,” said Elena Klaw, psychology professor, CCLL director and primary investigator of the Civic Action Fellowship.
“We are proud of the service that Fellows have provided toward advancing equity in STEM, providing public health education, and learning and growing as students and emerging leaders.”